High-Level Production, Solubilization and Purification of
Synthetic Human GPCR Chemokine Receptors CCR5,
CCR3, CXCR4 and CX3CR1
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Ren, Hui et al. “High-Level Production, Solubilization and
Purification of Synthetic Human GPCR Chemokine Receptors
CCR5, CCR3, CXCR4 and CX3CR1.” PLoS ONE 4.2 (2009):
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High-Level Production, Solubilization and Purification of
Synthetic Human GPCR Chemokine Receptors CCR5,
CCR3, CXCR4 and CX3CR1
Hui Ren1, Daoyong Yu1,2, Baosheng Ge1,2, Brian Cook1, Zhinan Xu1, Shuguang Zhang1*
1 Center for Biomedical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America, 2 Center for Bioengineering and
Biotechnology, China University of Petroleum, Qingdao, Shandong, People’s Republic of China
Chemokine receptors belong to a class of integral membrane G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) and are responsible for
transmitting signals from the extracellular environment. However, the structural changes in the receptor, connecting ligand
binding to G-protein activation, remain elusive for most GPCRs due to the difficulty to produce them for structural and
functional studies. We here report high-level production in E.coli of 4 human GPCRs, namely chemokine receptors (hCRs)
CCR5, CCR3, CXCR4 and CX3CR1 that are directly involved in HIV-1 infection, asthma and cancer metastasis. The synthetic
genes of CCR5, CCR3, CXCR4 and CX3CR1 were synthesized using a two-step assembly/amplification PCR method and
inserted into two different kinds of expression systems. After systematic screening of growth conditions and host strains, TB
medium was selected for expression of pEXP-hCRs. The low copy number pBAD-DEST49 plasmid, with a moderately strong
promoter tightly regulated by L-arabinose, proved helpful for reducing toxicity of expressed membrane proteins. The
synthetic Trx-hCR fusion genes in the pBAD-DEST49 vector were expressed at high levels in the Top10 strain. After a
systematic screen of 96 detergents, the zwitterionic detergents of the Fos-choline series (FC9-FC16) emerged as the most
effective for isolation of the hCRs. The FC14 was selected both for solubilization from bacterial lysates and for stabilization of
the Trx-hCRs during purification. Thus, the FC-14 solubilized Trx-hCRs could be purified using size exclusion
chromatography as monomers and dimers with the correct apparent MW and their alpha-helical content determined by
circular dichroism. The identity of two of the expressed hCRs (CCR3 and CCR5) was confirmed using immunoblots using
specific monoclonal antibodies. After optimization of expression systems and detergent-mediated purification procedures,
we achieved large-scale, high-level production of 4 human GPCR chemokine receptor in a two-step purification, yielding
milligram quantities of CCR5, CCR3, CXCR4 and CX3CR1 for biochemical, biophysical and structural analysis.
Citation: Ren H, Yu D, Ge B, Cook B, Xu Z, et al. (2009) High-Level Production, Solubilization and Purification of Synthetic Human GPCR Chemokine Receptors
CCR5, CCR3, CXCR4 and CX3CR1. PLoS ONE 4(2): e4509. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004509
Editor: Yann Astier, Instituto de Tecnologia Quı́mica e Biológica, Portugal
Received October 4, 2008; Accepted November 21, 2008; Published February 18, 2009
Copyright: ß 2009 Ren et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted
use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: SZ gratefully acknowledges a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship to provide freedom to pursue frontiers of studying membrane protein structures.
This work is supported in part by NIH. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
* E-mail: [email protected]
studies, which require milligram quantities of purified membrane
protein [7], production in heterologous systems is required, but
has been extremely difficult to accomplish. Up to now the
molecular structures of only 5 unique GPCRs have been
determined including bovine rhodopsin with and without the
retinal ligand as well as with a C-terminal 11-residue peptide
fragment of a Ga-protein (Ga-CT) [8,9,10]; a highly engineered
human b2-adrenergic receptor with a replaced intracellular loop 3
(IC3) [11,12], and a turkey b1-adrenergic receptor with the IC3
domain partly removed and most C-terminus deleted [13].
Currently not a single chemokine receptor structure is known.
Determination of the molecular structures of GPCRs including
chemokine receptor still remains an enormous challenge, largely
due to the notorious difficulty to obtain large quantities of purified
proteins. The same is true for other membrane proteins. This is
evident also from the fact that there are only 178 unique
membrane protein structures among 410 membrane protein
structures from over 54,000 structures available in the current
Protein Data Bank http://www.rcsb.org/pdb/home/home.do
(November 2008).
G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) primarily function as cellsurface receptors responsible for the transduction of extra-cellular
stimuli into intra-cellular signals by binding extra-cellular ligands
including photons, ions, lipids, peptides, nucleosides, nucleotides,
neurotransmitters and peptide hormones. Structurally, they share
a common hydrophobic core composed of seven-transmembrane
a-helices (7TM) [1,2]. Approximately 4% of human genes code for
GPCRs and by the current count there are ,800 functional genes.
They comprise the largest superfamily of human integral
membrane proteins [3,4]. GPCRs play vital roles in a wide range
of biological processes and are involved in a remarkable array of
signaling events ranging from memory, sight, and smell to sexual
development and the regulation of blood pressure [5,6].
Therefore, GPCRs are attractive therapeutic targets for drug
design. Currently, about 50% of pharmaceutical drugs target
GPCRs [3]. Despite their critical importance, our current
understanding of structure and function of GPCRs is inadequate
because of their low natural abundance. Thus, for structural
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chemokines (fractalkine, CX3CL) [6,29,30,31]. The biological
functions of chemokines are mediated by binding to cell surface
chemokine receptors, which belong to the superfamily of Gprotein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) [29]. Chemokines and their
receptors are implicated in a wide range of human diseases,
including acute respiratory distress syndrome, allergic asthma,
psoriasis, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer metastases, atherosclerosis, and AIDS infection. [6,28,32,33]. We selected 4 human
chemokine receptors in this study.
Human chemokine receptors CXCR4 (hCXCR4, termed
Fusin) and CCR5 (hCCR5) have been identified as principal coreceptors, besides CD4, for entry of human immunodeficiency
virus 1 isolate (HIV-1) into target cells. Specifically, CXCR4 is
used for T cell line-tropic strains (X4), CCR5 for macrophagetropic strains (R5), and another HIV-1 strains (R5X4), also named
dual-tropic primary isolate, utilizes both CXCR4 and CCR5 as
entry co-receptor [34,35]. Additionally, CXCR4 and its specific
ligand SDF-1 were shown to be associated with several cancers,
such as breast cancer, head and neck cancer, small-cell lung cancer
and non-small-cell lung cancer [36,37]. Human chemokine
receptor CCR3 (hCCR3) is highly expressed on eosinophils and
binds multiple chemokine ligands such as eotaxin (CCL11),
eotaxin-2 (CCL24), eotaxin-3 (CCL26), and MCP-4 (CCL13)
with high affinity [38]. CCR3 also function as co-receptor for
some isolates of HIV-1 and HIV-2 [39]. Furthermore several
clinical studies suggest that eotaxin/CCR3 plays a pivotal role in
allergic diseases, including allergic asthma, rhinitis, and atopic
dermatitis [31,40].
Human chemokine receptor CX3CR1 (hCX3CR1), the specific
receptor for the fractalkine (FKN), is expressed on inflammatory
leukocytes such as natural killer cells, monocytes and T
lymphocytes, and mediates both cell-adhesive and migratory
behavior of leukocytes, in addition, it is expressed at particularly
high levels in neurons and microglia in the brain [41,42].
CX3CR1 was also identified as a co-receptor together with CD4
for entry of HIV-1 [43], and a role for CX3CR1-FKN-mediated
inflammation has been suggested in various inflammatory diseases
including vascular injury, atopic dermatitis and allergic airway
diseases [44].
Altogether, these 4 chemokine receptors represent attractive
targets for intervention against such major diseases as AIDS,
cancers and allergic diseases. Recently, certain chemokine
receptor antagonists derived from chemokine peptides and small
molecules were developed to block chemokine receptors [45].
However, the mechanisms of receptor interaction with their ligand
and drugs remain poorly understood for lack of detailed molecular
structures of chemokine receptors.
Here we report high-level productions of human GPCR
chemokine receptors CCR5, CCR3, CXCR4 and CX3CR1.
We synthesized the genes using a two-step assembly/amplification
PCR method, then inserted them into pEXP3-DEST and pBADDEST49 vectors for high-level expression screening in E.coli. We
first systematically screened and selected optimal: 1) E.coli host
strains, 2) growth media, 3) induction and 4) temperature for
protein production. After optimizing the expression of these
chemokine receptors, we proceeded to systematically screen 96
detergents for use in purification procedures. The Fos-choline
series, particularly FC14, was found to be most effective. This
finding corroborates the previous work by Cook et al., who
screened a wide range of detergents and found FC14 to be the
optimal detergent for solubilizing and stabilizing another human
GPCR, olfactory receptor hOR17-4 [46]. We also carried out
secondary structural analysis of the purified protein and confirmed
their molecular identities using monoclonal antibodies and some
For over 50% of these determined membrane protein
structures, the proteins were purified from naturally abundant
sources. In contrast, less than 10% of soluble proteins were from
natural sources, and over 90% were produced as recombinant
proteins [14]. Therefore, future efforts need to focus on procedures
for high-level heterologous expression of membrane proteins,
effective solubilization in the presence of surfactants and
purification for crystallization screening [15,16].
Heterologous expression of functional GPCRs has been
accomplished in Escherichia coli, yeast, insect and mammalian cells,
but with varying degree of success because of differences in host
cell environment [17,18]. Insect and mammalian cell expression
systems have been most frequently employed for pharmacological
development. For biophysical and structural studies that require
large amounts of GPCRs, yeast and E. coli systems are attractive
for their ease of large-scale production but have been used with
varying success [7].
There is no universal system suitable for GPCR production.
The approach to achieving high-level production must often rely
on empirical solutions for each particular GPCR. E.coli is a widely
used system for heterologous protein production and is often
perceived as an easy way to produce large amounts of eukaryotic
proteins because of its simplicity of use and the availability of
various expression plasmids and E.coli strains which have been
reported to support high-level protein production. Furthermore,
the short time required for plasmid construction and expression
allows rapid optimization of purification schemes and inexpensive
material for purification [7,17,19].
However, reports of GPCR expression in E.coli have shown
extremely low yields [20]. Many factors may affect the efficiency
including 1) codon usage efficiency, 2) translational initiation, 3)
mRNA stability, 4) stability of the expressed protein, and 5)
toxicity of the expressed protein in the host cells [7]. Several
methods have been developed to overcome these problems and
increase the protein yield. Notably, fusing target proteins to a
highly expressed bacterial protein has proven particularly effective
for improving the expression level of membrane proteins in E. coli
[21]. Several GPCRs have been functionally expressed in E.coli
and purified in milligram quantities as fusion proteins [22,23,24].
Solubilization and stabilization of membrane proteins using
detergents are the first critical steps in purification membrane
proteins, and constitute a bottleneck for the structural biology of
membrane proteins [25,26]. Membrane proteins require a
membrane-like environment to maintain their correctly folded
structures and functions during and after purification. Detergent
micelles provide such environments surrounding the hydrophobic
domains of membrane protein and keeping them soluble in an
aqueous environment, and thus are widely used for solubilization
and purification of membrane proteins [27]. Generally, the
suitable detergent or detergent mixture should solubilize the
target protein most effective, keep it stable, and prevent its selfaggregation. However, due to individual differences between
membrane proteins, the choice of detergent or detergent mixture
for a particular protein cannot be predicted. Therefore, a
systematic approach is required to select the optimal detergents
to achieve solubilization and stabilization of each target protein.
Chemokines are a family of small chemotactic cytokines (,8–
14 kDa), which function as chemo-attractants for various types of
leukocytes and play a vital role in host defense mechanisms and
lymphocyte development [6,28,29,30,31]. Chemokines are divided into four subfamilies based on the arrangement of two Nterminally conserved cysteine residues: a- or CXC chemokines
(recently named CXC ligands, CXCL), b- or CC chemokines
(CCL), c- or C chemokines (lymphotactin, XCL) and CX3C
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cases, mass spectroscopy analysis. To our knowledge, this is the
first high-level production of human GPCR chemokine receptors
in E.coli in milligram quantities sufficient for initiating structural
Results and Discussion
PCR-based gene synthesis of human chemokine
Genes of hCCR5, hCCR3, hCXCR4 and hCX3CR1 were de
novo synthesized from a set of overlapping DNA oligonucleotides
using a two-step assembly/amplification PCR method [47]. Using
the online program DNAworks http://helixweb.nih.gov/dnaworks
[48], the gene sequences of hCCR5, hCCR3, hCXCR4 and
hCX3CR1 were optimized using human codon preference (Figure
S1). The full-length genes were parsed into 42 oligos with the
maximum length of 45 nucleotides. Assembly PCR (PCR1) and
amplification PCR (PCR2) were successfully carried out (Figure 1).
The PCR1 products (Fig 1A) including the full-length genes were
later specifically amplified in PCR2 (Fig 1B). The number of PCR
cycles in PCR1 is very important for successfully producing the fulllength gene fragments. This number in some degree depends on the
number of oligonucleotides in the starting set, as was described by
Baedeker [49]. However, this still is an empirical approach to obtain
the best results for each gene. Subsequently, we cloned the 4
synthetic hCR genes into pCT-Blunt II-TOPO vector by TOPO
Cloning. In the same manner, our group also successfully
synthesized several genes including human tetraspanin membrane
protein CD81 and human olfactory receptor 17-4, mouse olfactory
receptors mOR23, mS51 and I7 [46,50,51].
Figure 1. Analysis of PCR-based gene synthesis of human
chemokine receptors. Full-length genes of hCCR5 (1,056 bp), hCCR3
(1,065 bp), hCXCR4 (1,056 bp) and hCX3CR1 (1,065 bp) were de novo
synthesized using a two-step assembly/amplification PCR method and
examined on 1% TAE agarose gel electrophoresis by staining with 2 mg/
ml of ethidium bromide (EB). Samples (5 ml) were mixed with 1 ml of 66
DNA loading buffer per lane. 1 Kb DNA ladder is also shown. A)
Detection of assembly PCR (PCR1) products of each hCR. B) Detection of
amplification PCR (PCR2) products of the full-length genes from PCR1.
The choice of expression vector systems
Synthetic genes of hCRs were expressed in E.coli system using
GatewayH Technology since it is the most commonly used system
for heterologous protein productions. It is also convenient for
plasmid construction and optimization of expression levels [7]. For
rapid testing of protein expression and efficient purification, a
His6-tag was fused to the C-terminus of the hCRs in the attB-PCR
step. Finally, each synthetic hCR gene was independently
subcloned into pEXP3-DEST vector and pBAD-DEST49 vector,
for screening different expression systems.
The high-copy-number pEXP3-DEST plasmid vector, which
has a strong T7 promoter, is designed for in vitro protein
production although it is also useful for expression in E.coli strains
expressing the T7 RNA polymerase. The elements of hCR
constructs in the pEXP3-DEST (pEXP-hCR) include a Nterminal His6-tag and a Lumio tag followed by a TEV recognition
site, and an attB1, flanked fragment inserted by the Gateway
Cloning technique (Figure 2A).
The arabinose PBAD promoters, which provide tight, dosedependent regulation of heterologous gene expression and
inducible with L-arabinose, are particularly suitable for expression
of membrane proteins [52]. The low-copy-number pBADDEST49 plasmid vector was used as a Gateway Cloning
destination vector for the synthetic hCR genes. They feature the
fusion partner HP-thioredoxin (Trx-), followed by an Enterokinase
recognition site (EK) and attB-flanked fragment containing the
gene of interest (Figure 2B). The fusion partner HP-thioredoxin
(His-Patch thioredoxin) is modified from E.coli thioredoxin by
E32H and Q64H mutations to form a ‘‘patch’’ together with His8,
which binds metal ions, to purify proteins on metal-chelating
resins. Furthermore, thioredoxin functions as a translation leader
for high-level expression and in some cases, to improve the
solubility and stability of the fused membrane proteins [53].
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Selections of E.coli host strains
Unlike soluble proteins, membrane proteins, in general, have to
be inserted into host membranes to assume their correct
conformation. This often introduces toxicity to host cells during
overexpression. Several E.coli strains have been developed to reduce
such toxic effects associated with high-level expression of membrane
proteins. However, the choice of the most suitable host strains for
expression of a particular membrane protein is still empirical.
Therefore, to attain high-level production, milligrams per liter of
cell culture of functional membrane proteins, a systematic
optimization of the expression system need to be carried out in a
combinatorial manner including: 1) transcription promoters, 2)
expression vectors, 3) host cell strains, 4) growth media conditions,
5) inducer concentration, 6) timing of induction, 7) duration of post
induction, and 8) growth temperature of post induction [7].
Host strain screening for expression of pEXP-hCRs, was carried
out with 5 E.coli strains: 1) BL21(DE3)-Star-pLysS (BL21), 2)
C41(DE3) (C41), 3) C43(DE3) (C43), 4) C41(DE3)-pLysS
(C41pLysS) and 5) C43(DE3)-pLysS (C43pLysS). The strain C41
and C43 were derived from BL21 to achieve high-level production
of heterologous membrane proteins, reportedly for solving the
problem of plasmid instability during the expression of toxic
recombinant membrane proteins [54,55].
We compared LB-agar plates I to II, BL21 and C41 cells that
cannot form colonies in the presence of inducer IPTG (II), typical
for expression of membrane proteins (Figure 3A). However, it does
not necessarily suggest that the foreign gene is toxic to host strains
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Figure 2. Schematic illustrations of 4 hCRs expressed as fusion proteins. In each synthetic hCR gene with a His6-tag was inserted at the Cterminus for expression, detection and protein purification, and each gene was cloned into pEXP3-DEST and pBAD-DEST49 vectors, respectively. A)
Schematic representation of hCR cloned into pEXP3-DEST vector (simply pEXP-hCR). The translation start codon (ATG) followed by His6-tag, LumioTM
–tag and TEV (TEV protease recognition site) are present in the vector pEXP3-DEST and fused at the N-terminus of hCR following the insertion of the
C-terminally His6-tagged hCR at the attB1 site by the Gateway site-specific recombination reaction. B) Schematic representation of hCR cloned into
pBAD-DEST49 vector (pBAD-hCR). Analogous to the pEXP-hCR vector, the ATG, HP-thioredoxin (Trx) and EK (Enterokinase recognition site) are
present in the pBAD-DEST49 vector and fused at the attB1 site to the N-terminus of hCR, following Gateway protocols.
of media. For testing growth conditions for pBAD-hCRs in Top10
(Figure 3C), cell growth was further studied in liquid media. The
culture density of pBAD-hCCR3 and pBAD-hCX3CR1 in Top10
significantly increased in TB medium as function of time, but no
obvious change was observed for hCCR5 and hCXCR4. The cell
density of pBAD-hCCR3 and hCX3CR1 in Top10 was able to
reach OD600 7–8 units while those of hCCR5 and hCXCR4 only
reached OD600 0.6–0.8, a 10-fold difference. The expression of
hCCR5 and hCXCR4 thus appeared to induce a stronger toxic
response in the host cells than hCCR3 and hCX3CR1.
It is not surprising that different proteins have individual
characteristics and behave differently in identical cells, which is a
common observation in heterologous membrane protein expression [7]. It is possible that media rich in nutrients in some cases
may contribute to the damage from toxic effects of heterologous
membrane protein expression. TB medium contains higher
concentration of yeast extract and tryptone with additional
glycerol (0.4% v/v), and the strong phosphate buffer, which make
it suitable for long-term growth of cells. Thus, it was selected as the
best medium for heterologous expression of hCRs. For pEXPhCRs, each of the strains showed similar behavior i.e., after
induction, the cell cultures reached high densities of 11–13 OD600
units, especially in TB medium (data not shown). In most cases,
such high cell densities are indicative of a lower protein expression,
protein expressed in inclusion bodies, or lower plasmid stability.
since the conditions for growth and induction may also influence
the expression level. C43, C41pLysS and C43pLysS were able to
form smaller colonies in the presence of IPTG (II) than those of in
the absence of IPTG (I), which, although a promising sign, does
not always guarantee successful expression of target genes [56].
Good growth was observed for pBAD-hCRs in Top10, which is
the strain recommended in the manufacturers protocol since its
deficient in araBADC. In the presence of L-arabinose (plates
denoted with a +), Top10 cells formed colonies with smaller size
than those on plates lacking L-arabinose (2) (Figure 3B).
The expression levels of pEXP-hCRs in each of the 5 strains and
of pBAD-hCRs in Top10 were studied from 5 selected colonies,
each picked from the plates without inducer. The results suggested
that pEXP3-hCCR3, hCXCR4 and hCX3CR1 were best
expressed in C41 strain, to some extent, and expressed at a lower
level, in C43 and BL21, but not expressed well in C41pLysS and
C43pLysS. For the pEXP-hCCR5 construct, detectable expression
was not achieved in any of these strains. Expression was in all cases
induced using 0.25 mM IPTG in TB medium at 16–18uC for 12–
20 hours with shaking. The colonies of pEXP-hCRs in C43,
C41pLysS and C43pLysS were larger than those in C41 and BL21
(Fig 3A). However, the gene expression levels in the former three
strains appears to be lower than in the latter two strains. The, choice
of the C41 over the BL21 strain for expression of pEXP-hCRs, was
motivated by its better resistance to the toxic effects of heterologous
membrane proteins in the host cells, as was described [54]. The
expression of pEXP-hCRs in C41 was later studied by Western blot
using mouse His6-tag monoclonal antibody.
Optimization of inducible hCR expression
In order to optimize high-level hCR production, many variables
must be systematically studied including timing, length of
induction and culture temperature. To screen the high-yield
production strains easily, a rapid and simple method is crucial. We
used dot-blot detection with mouse anti-His6-tag monoclonal
antibody since the expressed proteins all carried the His6-tag.
As described in the previous section, pEXP-hCCR3 reached a
higher level of expression than did pEXP-hCXCR4 or
hCX3CR1, while no expression was detectable for pEXP-hCCR5
Selection of growth media
The choice of growth media has a significant influence on cell
growth and protein production. Thus, selection of suitable growth
media and conditions for pEXP-hCR expression in each of the 5
E.coli strains was carried out by comparison of colonies between
plates II, III and IV (Figure 3A). TB (Terrific Broth) medium
plates (III) showed better growth conditions than other two types
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Figure 3. Selection of E.coli host strains and media for inducible expression of hCRs. A) Screening of E.coli strains and media for pEXPhCRs. Each of pEXP-hCRs was transformed into all 5 E.coli strains: BL21, C41, C43, C41-pLysS and C43-pLysS, and spread on LB-agar plates (I), LB-agarIPTG plates (II), TB-agar-IPTG plates (III) and 2YT-agar-IPTG plates (IV) for colony analysis. B) L-arabinose induction pBAD-hCRs for E.coli strain Top10.
LB-agar plates without (2) and with (+) L-arabinose (0.05%) were used. C) Growth conditions of pBAD-hCRs in Top10 in the presence of inducer. Cell
culture density at 600 nm (OD600) after indicated induction time, 3.5 hours, 6.5 hours, 10.5 hours and 24 hours, was measured.
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calculated molecular weight as shown in Table 1, which is not
uncommon for membrane proteins, especially for GPCRs. The
membrane proteins samples were mixed with SDS sample loading
buffer and incubated at 37uC for 10 minutes before loading.
Unlike for samples of soluble proteins, which need be boiled before
loading, membrane protein samples cannot be boiled since boiling
results in further aggregation. Therefore, membrane protein
samples cannot be completely denatured only by SDS, thus have
a more compact shape, which tends to faster migration in the
SDS-PAGE gel, typically at ,70–85% of their expected molecular
weight [57].
Systematic detergent screening for solubilization of TrxhCRs
Solubilization from the host cell membrane is absolutely crucial
for successfully purification and stabilization of the heterologous
membrane proteins [25,58]. The choice of a suitable detergent for
solubilizing an individual membrane protein must be empirically
determined. Even for membrane proteins in GPCR superfamily,
different detergents have been used for solubilization of different
GPCRs [59]. Therefore, a systematic approach for screening a
wide range of detergents is essential for obtaining the expressed
Detergents generally are divided into 4 group depending on
their chemical properties, namely, anionic (A), cationic (C), nonionic (N) and zwitter-ionic (Z) [60]. To investigate the efficacy of
various detergents for extraction of Trx-hCRs, 96 detergents were
selected from the commercial Solution Master Detergent Kit and
from literature. These detergents (Fig. 5) include members of
maltosides and glucosides families, such as b-OG, DM and DDM,
which have been successfully used to produce crystals; some
generally used reagents for solubilization and purification of
membrane proteins in many laboratories, such as Digitonin,
TDAO, Triton and CHAPS; and some recently developed
detergents, i.e. Cyclo-Fos series, Cymal series and Fos-Choline
series. In addition, several detergent mixtures were also included in
Figure 5 since they had proven effective in solubilization of some
GPCRs [59].
The detergent concentrations used during extraction procedures
were based on their critical micelle concentration (CMC) values. A
concentration above the CMC is required to form micelles. For
the majority of detergents, 1% was thus chosen as a standard
concentration during the extraction trials, except for detergents
with higher CMC, where ,2% was used. Detergents with much
higher CMC (.2%) were not used since their detergent-protein
ratios are hard to reach [25], except MEGA-8 (#52), which was
chosen for completing the variety of detergents.
Our laboratory has also been studying other GPCRs including
human and mouse olfactory receptors since 2004. After extensive
screening of a wide ranger of various detergents, Brian Cook found
Figure 4. Expression of hCRs detected with Western blot using
mouse anti-His6-tag monoclonal antibody. SDS-PAGE was performed using NuPAGE 4–12% Bis-Tris gel (Invitrogen, 16 MES buffer).
Lane M, His-tagged protein standard size markers (Invitrogen); Lane 1
through 4, proteins expressed by pBAD-hCCR5, hCCR3, hCXCR4 and
hCX3CR1 in Top10, respectively; Lanes 5 through 8, proteins expressed
by pEXP-hCCR5, hCCR3, hCXCR4 and hCX3CR1 in C41, respectively.
(Figure 4). The plasmid stability correlated with their expression
level, e.g. higher stability for pEXP-hCCR3 (80%) than for pEXPhCXCR4 (66%), hCX3CR1 (62%) and hCCR5 (50%).
Expression of pBAD-hCRs in Top10 was similarly studied as for
pEXP-hCRs. All the genes were expressed after induction with
0.05% L-arabinose in TB medium at 16–18uC from 2–24 hours.
The expression of synthetic hCR genes expressed in pBAD-hCRs
with the Trx fusion partner at the N-terminus (Trx-hCRs), are
shown in Figure 4. The total expression levels of pBAD-hCRs are
higher than those of pEXP-hCRs. Furthermore, the bands (lanes
1–4) show more proteins than those expressed by pEXP-hCRs
(lanes 5–8), suggesting more stable and less aggregated expression
of pBAD-hCRs in Top10 as compared to the expression of pEXPhCRs in C41. The plasmids of pBAD-hCRs also show higher
stability than pEXP-hCRs, i.e. 75% for pBAD-hCCR5, 93% for
pBAD-hCCR3, 60% for pBAD-hCXCR4 and 80% for pBADhCX3CR1. Therefore pBAD-hCRs in Top10 were selected for
expression of synthetic hCR genes.
The apparent molecular weights of expressed hCRs and TrxhCRs in SDS-PAGE gel are generally smaller than their
Table 1. Parameters of native and reconstructed human chemokine receptors.
Amino Acids MW(kD)*
Amino Acids MW(kD)*
Amino Acids MW(kD)* pI**
Amino Acids MW(kD)*
MW, molecular weight.
pI, isoelectric point.
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Figure 5. Systematic detergent screens. 96 detergents were systematically screened for their ability to solubilize the Trx-hCRs protein
preparation. 96 detergents were selected from the commercial Solution Master Detergent Kit and from literature. Detergents generally are divided
into 4 groups depending on their chemical properties, namely, anionic (A), cationic (C), non-ionic (N) and zwitter-ionic (Z). For the majority of
detergents, 1% was thus chosen as a standard concentration during the extraction trials, except for detergents with higher CMC, where ,2% was
used. As can be seen from the figure, several clusters of detergents are most effective, particularly phosphocholine (FC) series.
phosphocholine (Fos-) series are most effective for solubilizing and
stabilizing human olfactory receptors hOR17-4 that was largescale produced from mammalian cell [46, Cook, unpublished
results]. Cook subsequently found FC14 is optimal for all the
hOR17-4 study. Likewise, Liselotte Kaiser and Johanna Graveland-Bikker also found that FC14 is optimal for stabilizing several
olfactory receptors produced in wheat germ cell-free system [51]
and in yeast Pichia production [unpublished results]. However, it
is unknown if FC14 would work equally well in human chemokine
receptors. We again carried out a systematic search for optimal
Each Trx-hCR expressed by pBAD-hCRs in Top10 was
simultaneously solubilized in each of the 96 detergents in a 96well plate and the extract was examined using Dot blot detection.
The extraction of Trx-hCR proteins by detergents was tested on
the whole cell lysate (see Method section). The images of dot blots
are shown in Figure 6. The higher the solubility it has, the darker
the dots are. The average intensity of spots was determined by
scanning using FluorChem software. It is presented as a 2D
column in Figure 5, with the numbers a1-h12 corresponding to the
detergents 1–96.
We carried out analyses by comparing the solubilizing
effectiveness of various detergents for Trx-hCR proteins. We
identified the most effective detergents (Fig. 5, Fig. 6,). We found
two series of zwitter-ionic (Z) detergents, CycloFos series (#26–29)
and Fos-Choline series (#37–44) to be most effective of
solubilizing all of the Trx-hCRs. Another zwitter-ionic detergents
n-Dodecyl-b-iminodipropionic acid, monosodium salt (#79) was
also reasonably effective to solubilize Trx-hCRs. Anapoe-35 (#3,
termed Brij-35), Anapoe-58 (#4, termed Brij-58) and Anzergent
series (#16–18) showed specificity in solubilizing Trx-hCCR5.
Maltosides (#62–70), glucosides (#60, 61) and thio-maltosides
(#71–76) series were moderately effective for solubilization of TrxhCRs. Cymal series (#31–34) showed a higher solubilization of
Trx-hCCR5 than of other hCRs, including the Cymal-5, which
has been used for solubilization of functional CCR5 [61].
Digitonin, CHAPS, DDM and some detergent mixtures, which
are of rather general use for GPCR solubilization, show certain
capability of isolation of hCRs.
Zwitter-ionic detergents were the most effective for solubilizing
hCRs in this system, as they were for solubilizing other GPCRs.
For example, DDAO was used for structural studies on rhodopsin,
CHAPSO is able to maintain the native structures of CCR5 and
CXCR4, and LDAO has been used for solubilizing human
leukotriene B4 receptor [62,63,64,65].
The Fos-Choline series shares the same hydrophilic phosphocholine (Fos-) head group with CycloFos series, but possess a
simple hydrophobic tails that likely makes them more effective
than CycloFos series. Recently, some members of Fos-Choline
series have been used to solubilizing GPCRs, for example, FosCholine-16 (FC16) was selected as the suitable detergent for
human NK1 receptor (hNK1R) [66]; Fos-Choline 10, 11, 12
(FC10, FC11, FC12) were tested in a high-throughput expression
system for membrane proteins, and revealed excellent capabilities
for solubilizing membrane proteins, however, at a similar level
with maltosides series, NM, DM, UDM and DDM [67,68]; Foscholine 14 was used to solubilize human CCR5, but was less
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effective than Cymal-5 [61]. Fos-cholines 12–16 (#40–44) were
the most effective detergents for solubilizing hCRs in our study.
Stability of Trx-hCRs (Trx-hCCR5 shown in Figure 7E) was
tested in the presence of each of the 16 optimal detergents. Foscholine14 (#42, FC14) was the most effective of all the tested
detergents for stabilizing TRX-CCR5. For the remaining 3 TrxhCRs, FC13, FC14 and FC15 were effective as well. It is possible
that n-Dodecyl-b-iminodipropionic acid, monosodium salt (#79)
is also a good choice for CCR5 and CXCR4, and CX3CR1. It is
as effective as Fos-choline series, particularly FC14, but it was less
effective for Trx-hCCR3.
We used Western blot detection to study the solubilization of TrxhCRs. Samples of Trx-hCCR3 and hCX3CR1 were solubilized
using FC14 and FC12 respectively. FC14 proved more effective for
solubilization of Trx-hCCR3 and hCX3CR1 than FC12
(Figure 6F). FC14 was previously found to solubilize and to purify
several olfactory receptors including human hOR17-4, mouse
mOR23, mS51 and I7 [46]. Furthermore, Fos-choline-14 was used
in the crystallization of the E. Coli mechanosensitive ion channel
MscS for a successful structure [69]. One purified E.coli membrane
protein in our laboratory has also been crystallized using FC14 and
diffracted to 3.6Å resolution (unpublished results). Based on current
and the previous detergent optimization, FC14 detergent was
selected as standard detergent in all subsequent hCR purifications.
High-level production of Trx-hCRs
Each of the pBAD-hCRs produced in Top10 was scaled up to 1
liter for high-level production of Trx-hCRs. Washed cell
membrane fractions were dissolved in the Solubilization buffer
containing 1% FC14 and subjected to ultracentrifugation at
100,0006g for one hour to remove the non-solubilized proteins
and collect the supernatant for purification. The purification of
Trx-hCCR3 is a simple 2-step process (Fig. 7A). First, the protein
was purified by Ni2+ chelation chromatography (I), then further
purified using size exclusion gel filtration (II). All protein fractions
were monitored by SDS-PAGE and Western blot detection
(Figure 7B). The proteins purified from the first step include
monomer, dimer and higher oligomer of Trx-hCCR3. These
species could be further resolved in the gel filtration step.
Trx-hCCR5, Trx-hCXCR4 and Trx-hCX3CR1 were also
scaled up and purified, but with a lower yields than for TrxhCCR3 (Figure 7D). The yields of purified Trx-hCRs finally
achieved in this system were ,1–3 mg/L for Trx-hCCR3, 0.1–
0.3 mg/L for Trx-hCCR5, 0.05–0.1 mg/L for hCXCR4 and 0.5–
1 mg/L for Trx-hCX3CR1. Individual membrane protein
behaves differently, hCCR5 and hCXCR4 showed higher cell
toxicity than hCCR3 and hCX3CR1, which may explain the
tenfold lower yield of these proteins.
Secondary structure analysis
Circular dichroism (CD) is one of the best methods to rapidly
study secondary structures of proteins, and the far-UV CD
spectroscopy from 200 nm to 250 nm can be used to estimate
contents of secondary structures. We used the purified TrxhCCR3 for CD study. The CD profile displayed a typical a-helical
curve with ,40% helical content (Figure 7C). This value is
somewhat lower than the theoretical ,45% (NNPredict at http://
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Figure 6. Detergent screening for solubilization of Trx-hCRs expressed by pBAD-hCRs in Top10. A)–D) Effectiveness of the 96 detergents
on solubilizing Trx-hCRs from cell lysates, as detected by Dot blot. Immunoblotting analysis was performed using mouse anti-His6-tag monoclonal
antibody. Each filter has 96 spots (a1 to h12), corresponding to the 96 detergents listed in Figure 5. Controls shown in (A) are positive control (+)
using 1:100 dilution of BenchMark His-tagged protein standard; negative control (21) was pBAD-hCCR5 in Top10 cultured in the absence of inducer;
negative control (22) was L-arabinose induced sample solubilized without the addition of detergent. The negative controls were processed in
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parallel with the other 96 samples. E) Long-term stabilization of proteins solubilized in 16 detergents for CCR5 is presented. A comprehensive list of
detergents for Trx-hCRs is presented in Figure 5. The detergent effectiveness was carried out at 4uC using Trx-hCCR5 for 3 days, 1 week and 3 weeks,
and detection was Dot blot using mouse anti-His6-tag monoclonal antibody. Dot blot intensities are shown as a 2-D column chart, and detergent
numbers are from the Figure 5. F) Effectiveness of FC14 and FC12 on solubilization of Trx-hCCR3 (I) and hCX3CR1 (II) from cell lysate detected by
Western blotting. Protein size standard is shown in the left lane.
ca.expasy.org) and lower than that of typical GPCRs with about
50% a-helical content [65,70]. It is possible that the contribution
to the spectrum from the N-terminal fusion partner HP-
thioredoxin may explain this difference. These results suggest that
the purified Trx-hCCR3 folded with a reasonable secondary
structure as calculated.
Figure 7. Large-scale purification, identification and studying secondary structure of Trx-hCRs. A) Two-step purification of Trx-hCCR3
from membrane fractions. (I) Ni2+ affinity purification of His6-tagged proteins using a Hitrap chelating HP 5 ml column. (II) Gel filtration purification
using Superdex 200 10/300 GL. Both purification steps were preformed on an ÄKTA Purifier System. B) SDS-PAGE detection and Western blot
identification of protein fractions of Trx-hCCR3. One of two duplicates of the SDS-PAGE was transferred onto a nitrocellulose membrane and
subjected to Western blot using rabbit anti-human CCR3 monoclonal antibody. Lane Ni: 1/10 dilution of Trx-hCCR3 protein purified by Ni2+ affinity
column (I); Lane A5 through A11: protein fractions of Trx-hCCR3 corresponding to gel filtration purification (II). All the samples were prepared by
mixing 15 ml of protein fractions with 5 ml of SDS Sample buffer (46). 10 ml of BenchMark His-tagged protein standard was loaded as protein marker.
SDS-PAGE was performed in a NuPAGE Novex 4–12% Bis-Tris Gel (in 16 MES buffer, Invitrogen) and stained by Simple Blue SafeStain (Invitrogen). C)
Circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy of purified Trx-hCCR3. Secondary structure of Trx-hCCR3 was analyzed by CD spectroscopy using purified TrxhCCR3 monomer at 37uC with the concentration of 1 mg/ml in Buffer C. D) All 4 Trx-hCRs were purified and analyzed on SDS-PAGE with size markers
and stained using Simple Blue SafeStain. E) Western blot identification of Ni2+ affinity column-purified Trx-hCCR5. Fraction of Trx-hCCR5 in the first
step of purification was diluted to 0.1 mg/ml and subjected to Western blot detection using rabbit anti-human CCR5 monoclonal antibody. ECL
DualVue Western blot Marker was used as protein standard. The 3 bands reveal that different states of Trx-hCCR5 were able to bind Ni2+ column.
Judging from molecular weight, they may correspond to Trx-hCCR5 dimer, monomer, and truncated Trx-hCCR5, possibly, non-fused hCCR5.
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from which can be regulated in a dose-depended manner by Larabinose from the concentration of 0.00002% to 0.2% [52].
Overexpression of heterologous membrane proteins fused to a
highly expressed soluble protein at the N-terminus has proven very
successfully [19,23,24,74,76]. In the present system, HP-thioredoxin functions as a fusion partner and starts the translation of
the target proteins. It may also facilitate to solubilize the GPCR in
our system. It remains to be seen if this system can be generalized
for other membrane proteins when more and more membrane
proteins are produced using this HP-thioredoxin system.
There is evidence that thioredoxin (Trx) possesses cytokine-like
and chemokine-like activities [77], which hints at the possibility of
specific interactions between the chemokine receptors and their
fusion partner Trx. Therefore, we speculate that its function is
deeply related to the stability of these chemokine receptor by
means of particular interaction helping to stabilize conformation of
hCRs. Purification of non-fused hCCR3 expressed by pEXPhCCR3 in C41 has been carried out, however, the proteins eluted
in the Ni2+ chelating column were not from the membrane
fractions, but from inclusion bodies (data not shown); although the
truncated form of Trx-hCCR5 was identified using Western blot
(Figure 7E), it could not be separated in the gel filtration step.
Using a low-copy-number plasmid with a moderately strong
promoter and lower temperature during production has proven
successful for membrane proteins [20]. Grisshammer and Tate
reported that low-level bacterial expression could lead to higher
degree of integration of the protein to the cytoplasmic membrane
of E. coli, which is taken as the rate-limiting step for overexpression
of membrane proteins [7]. Thus this simple, rapid and easy to
scale-up system offers a strategy for high-level production of
GPCRs for biophysical and structural studies.
Identification of the purified protein with Western blots
using monoclonal antibodies
All the protein fractions in the two-step purification of TrxhCCR3 were identified using Western blot detection using rabbit
anti-human CCR3 monoclonal antibody (Figure 7B). The elution
from the Ni2+ chelating column purification of Trx-hCCR5 was
also identified by Western blot detection using rabbit anti-human
CCR5 monoclonal antibody (Figure 7E). However, in addition to
that of Trx-hCCR5 (Figure 7E), a smaller fragment showed
positive reaction with the hCCR5 monoclonal antibody. We
speculated that the small fragment is perhaps a cleavage from the
N-terminus of hCCR5 with an apparent molecular weight
,25 kDa with the abnormal migration for membrane proteins
in SDS-PAGE and the monoclonal antibody recognizing the
cytoplasmic domain of hCCR5.
A high-efficiency E. coli expression system for high-level
production of GPCRs
Biophysical and structural studies of membrane proteins require
milligram quantities of proteins. To obtain such an amount is one
of the bottlenecks for membrane protein structural determinations
[7]. Therefore, significant effort and resources have been invested
in obtaining quantity and quality of membrane proteins.
Recently, several human GPCRs were expressed in E. coli, but
in most cases, at a low level, except for the human NK1 receptor
(hNK1R) which was expressed in a large amount, albeit as
inclusion bodies [66]. Functional chemokine receptors CCR5 and
CXCR4 have been isolated on a small scale using biosensor
technology, suitable to be used only for analysis of ligand/receptor
interactions [71]. Human adenosine A2a receptor has been
functionally expressed in E. coli as fusion with periplasmic
maltose-binding protein (MBP) at the N-terminus. A yield of
1.5 mg was obtained from 100 g of wet cells [22]. Rat neurotensin
receptor is another GPCR expressed in E. coli as dual fusions with
MBP at N-terminus and Trx at C-terminus. It yield 10 mg from
200 L of culture [23].
Our study is the first report that each of four medically important
human GPCR chemokine receptors CCR5, CCR3, CXCR4 and
CX3CR1 has been expressed as a membrane-associated protein
and purified in milligram amount using synthetic genes expressed in
E. coli expression systems, as N-terminal thioredoxin fusion proteins.
Although no ligand binding assays were carried out to study the
function and expression of the Trx-hCRs in membranes, it does not
necessarily mean that they are not functional [72]. The Trx-hCRs
were detected by their respective monoclonal antibodies, on
immunoblots, were highly stable in detergent solution and our
CD data indicated that the Trx-fusion CRs were correctly folded.
Screens for crystallization have been initiated.
The genes of hCRs encoded using human codon frequency
should have no obvious effects on expression in E.coli, since it has
been reported that even optimization of codon frequency for E. coli
will not have a significant effect [73,74]. More likely, the selection
of suitable promoters and plasmids is pre-requisite for regulated
expression of heterologous genes. The pBAD-DEST49 vector
containing the arabinose araBAD operon and the HP-thioredoxin
fusion partner are central factors in this system and showed high
capacity for expression of GPCRs. The pBAD vectors are
particularly suitable for overexpression of membrane proteins,
and possess general applicability which is proven by the fact that
members of four families of membrane proteins were overexpressed using such vectors and yielded at least 1 mg purified
proteins per liter of culture [75]. This is also in part due to the use
of the 1,200 fold repressible PBAD promotor, the transcription
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Materials and Methods
Reagents for PCR, TOPO Cloning and Gateway Cloning,
vectors, E. coli strains One Shot Top10 chemically competent cells
(Top10) and BL21(DE3)-STAR-pLysS, DNA Ladder, SDS-PAGE
gels and protein standards were purchased from Invitrogen
(Carlsbad, CA) unless otherwise noted. OverExpress Competent
Cells, including C41(DE3), C43(DE3), C41(DE3)-pLysS and
C43(DE3)-pLysS, were obtained from Lucigen (Middleton, WI). All
detergents were purchased from Anatrace (Maumee, OH). Nitrocellulose membranes were purchased from Bio-Rad (Hercules, CA).
Complete protease inhibitor cocktail tablets, EDTA-free, were
purchased from Roche (Mannheim, Germany). Rabbit anti-human
CCR3 monoclonal antibody (Ab 32512), rabbit anti-human CCR5
monoclonal antibody (Ab32048) and goat anti-rabbit IgG (HRP)
were purchased from Abcam (Cambridge, MA). Mouse His6-tag
monoclonal antibody and goat anti-mouse IgG/M HRP were
obtained from Novagen (Gibbstown, NJ). Protein purification
materials were purchased from GE Healthcare Life sciences,
Uppsala, Sweden. All common chemicals were obtained from either
Sigma (St. Louis, MO) or VWR International unless otherwise
Liquid growth media used for E. coli culture were Luria-Bertani
(LB) medium, Terrific Broth (TB) medium and 2YT medium,
which were made referring to [78]. Corresponding media plates
were made by adding 1.5% agar. The concentrations of antibiotics
used in the media and media plates were 100 mg/ml ampicillin,
50 mg/ml kanamycin, and 34 mg/ml chloramphenicol, respectively. Additionally, 0.3 mM isopropyl-1-thio-b-D galactopyranoside (IPTG) or 0.05% L-arabinose was added to make the media
plates in the presence of inducer.
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attB PCR product preparation, the BP Cloning reaction and the
LR Cloning reaction (details see Instruction Manual of Gateway
Cloning Technology, Invitrogen). The attB PCR product of
synthetic genes of hCRs were produced by regular PCR using
GGC TTA +24 nt of 59 terminal forward sequence of hCR) and
attB2-Histag-hCR-R (59- GGGG ACC ACT TTG TAC AAG
+24 nt of 39 terminal reverse sequence of hCR except for stop
code) as primers, with corresponding pTOPO-hCR plasmids as
templates. In the attB2-Histag-hCR-R primer, His6-tag codons
were added at the C-terminus of hCRs for expression detection
and protein purification. The PCR products were purified and
used in the following BP Cloning reaction, which used pDONR221 vector to make Entry Clones of synthetic genes of hCRs. In
the final step (LR Cloning reaction), each gene of hCR was cloned
into pEXP3-DEST and pBAD-DEST49 for non-fused and
thioredoxin-fused protein expression. All the reactions were
performed following the product protocol, and all the Entry
clones and Expression clones have been sequenced.
Buffers for lysis and solubilization: Lysis buffer, 50 mM sodium
phosphate pH 7.8, 200 mM NaCl, 100 mM KCl, 20% glycerol,
10 mM EDTA, 2 mM DTT, 1 mM PMSF, 50 mg/ml lysozyme,
20 mg/ml DNase I; Membrane Wash buffer, 50 mM sodium
phosphate pH 7.8, 500 mM NaCl, 100 mM KCl, 20% glycerol,
10 mM EDTA, 1 mM PMSF; Solubilization buffer, 50 mM
sodium phosphate pH 7.8, 200 mM NaCl, 100 mM KCl, 20%
glycerol, 1% FC14, 1 tablet of protease inhibitor per 10 ml.
Buffers for purification: Buffer A (Ni2+ chelating column binding
buffer), 50 mM sodium phosphate pH 7.8, 200 mM NaCl,
100 mM KCl, 0.02% FC14, 25 mM imidazole; Buffer B (Ni2+
chelating column elution buffer), 50 mM sodium phosphate
pH 7.8, 200 mM NaCl, 100 mM KCl, 0.02% FC14, 500 mM
imidazole; and Buffer C, (gel filtration and purified protein storage
buffer) 16PBS buffer (diluted from 106PBS buffer, EMD
Chemicals, Gibbstown, NJ), 0.02% FC14. Buffers for Western
blot and Dot blot: Blocking buffer, 16PBS, 10% skim milk, 0.1%
Tween-20; Wash buffer, 16PBS, 0.5% skim milk, 0.1% Triton-X100. Other buffers: DNA loading buffer (66) was from Novagen;
SDS Sample buffer (46), 250 mM Tris-HCL pH 6.8, 40%
glycerol, 8% SDS, 0.004% Bromophenol Blue, 20% Mercaptoethanol, dissolved in milliQ water and frozen at 220uC.
Selection of suitable host strains and optimization of cell
growth conditions. For selection of suitable host stains, pEXP-
hCRs were transformed into E. coli strains BL21, C41, C43, C41pLysS and C43-pLysS, respectively; while for pBAD-hCRs, the E.
coli strains Top10 was recommended by manufacturer’s instruction.
For toxicity detection and media type selection of pEXP-hCRs in
the five E. coli strains, an equal amount of the transformation
reactions were spread on LB-agar plates, LB-agar-IPTG plates, TBagar-IPTG plates and 2YT-agar-IPTG plates, respectively,
followed by overnight culture at 37uC. For pBAD-hCRs in
Top10, toxicity detection and media type selection were
performed in the same way, except that L-arabinose replaced the
IPTG as inducer for gene expression. In addition, selection of media
types from LB, TB and 2YT was also investigated in liquid media.
The protocol was: colonies from LB-agar plates were selected and
cultured in 5 ml of LB liquid medium overnight at 37uC with
shaking; the next morning, 50 ml of overnight culture was
inoculated in 5 ml of fresh LB, TB or 2YT liquid medium,
respectively, and to culture was continued at 37uC with shaking
while monitoring growth of the cultures by measuring the optical
density at 600 nm (OD600); at OD600 of 0.6,0.8, the temperature
was decreased to 16uC and after 20 minutes, the inducer was added
(0.3 mM IPTG for pEXP-hCRs, or 0.05% L-arabinose for pBADhCRs). The concentration was monitored every 3 or 4 hours until
harvest at 24 hours post induction. All plates and liquid media used
here and in later experiments contained 100 mg/ml of ampicillin,
except the strains with pLysS were 34 mg/ml of chloramphenicol
was added to avoid loss of the pLysS plasmid.
Optimization of gene expression. Five colonies from each
of the control LB-agar plates (plates I or - in Fig 3A) were selected
and separately cultured in 5 ml of LB medium overnight at 37uC
with shaking. The following morning, each cell culture was
separately inoculated (1:100) into 3 (for pEXP-hCRs) or 5 (for
pBAD-hCRs) tubes containing 5 ml fresh TB medium each.
Culture was continued at 37uC with shaking, until the
concentration of cell cultures (OD600) arrived at 0.6,0.8. At this
point, the temperature of the incubator was lowered to 16uC, and
different concentrations of inducer were added to the culture. For
pEXP-hCRs in the five strains, three concentrations at 0.1 mM,
0.2 mM and 0.3 mM of IPTG were tested for gene expression,
while five different concentrations at 0.01%, 0.02%, 0.05%, 0.1%
and 0.2% of L-arabinose were tested separately for the expression
of each pBAD-hCRs in Top10. One ml of cell culture was
withdrawn from each tube every 4 hours, pelleted at at 5000 g
PCR-based gene synthesis. Human chemokine receptors
CCR5, CCR3, CXCR4 and CX3CR1 were selected in the
GPCR structural biology program. Protein sequences of the hCRs
were obtained from UniProt (Universal Protein Resource), namely
human CCR5 (UniProt ID: P51681), human CCR3 (UniProt ID:
P51677), human CXCR4 (UniProt ID: P61073) and human
CX3CR1 (UniProt ID: P49238), as shown in Figure S1. For PCRbased gene synthesis, the receptor sequence was encoded using the
human codon preference using the Dnaworks program (http://
helixweb.nih.gov/dnaworks) and parsed into an oligonucleotide
set with the following parameters: 45 nt oligonucleotide length,
58uC annealing temperature, 19% of codon frequency threshold,
25 nM oligonucleotide, 10 mM Na+/K+ and 2.0 mM Mg2+. As
shown in Figure S1, the encoded genes of hCRs consist of 1056 bp
(hCCR5), 1065 bp (hCCR3), 1056 bp (hCXCR4) and 1065 bp
(hCX3CR1), respectively. Each gene of hCRs was synthesized as a
set of 42 oligonucleotides, synthesized at 50 mmolar scale in 96well plate format by Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT,
Coralville, IA).
PCR-based gene synthesis was performed using a two-step
assembly/amplification PCR protocol and designated PCR1 and
PCR2. In PCR1, all 42 oligos were mixed and diluted 1:10 (5 mM
for each oligos) in milliQ water as primers and also templates.
PCR1 was executed following standard protocol [78], except 58uC
anneal for 30 seconds, 72uC extension for 60 seconds, and 35
cycles, which are necessary for achieving full length of gene in
PCR2. PCR2 was performed using diluted (1:100) PCR1 product
as template and the two DNA oligos at the ends of the gene as
primers, 72uC extension for 90 seconds and 25 cycles. PCR
products were separated by 1.5% agarose gel electrophoresis and
stained with ethidium bromide (EB). PCR2 products were purified
using QIAquick Gel Extraction Kit (QIAGEN) before used in
TOPO Cloning, which is a blunt end subcloning used here for
inserting the full-length synthetic genes into the pCR-Blunt IITOPO vector for amplification and DNA sequencing. TOPO
Cloning was performed following the manufacturer’s protocol.
The plasmids with pTOPO-hCR inserts were purified using
QIAprep Miniprep kit (QIAGEN) and sequenced.
Technology. There are three steps in Gateway Cloning: the
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and store at 220uC. These samples were used for detection of
expression Dot blot.
Stability of plasmids was also investigated for pEXP-hCRs in
C41 and pBAD-hCRs in Top10. For each plasmid, 100 ml was
taken from the cultures after 24 hours of expression, diluted in five
ten-fold steps from each of which 100 ml was spread on LB-agar
plates and LB-agar-ampicillin plates for overnight culture at 37uC.
The following morning, plate pairs with about 100 colonies
formed were used to calculate the stability ratio of the plasmid.
Western blot & Dot blot detection. Sample preparation:
stored cell pellets collected from 1 ml of culture were resuspended
with 180 ml Lysis buffer. After three cycles of freeze-thaw at
280uC and 42uC, 20 ml of 10% detergent (FC14, unless otherwise
stated) was added and mixed well, then, mixtures were incubated
for 2 hours at 4uC with gentle shaking. After centrifugation at
16,000 g for 10 minutes the supernatant was removed into fresh
tubes for protein expression testing. These samples were stored at
4uC if used within a few days, or at 280uC for future use.
For Western blot detection, 15 ml of each sample was mixed
with 5 ml of SDS sample buffer (46) and kept for 10 minutes at
37uC before applying to SDS-PAGE. Subsequently, the proteins in
the gel were transferred onto nitrocellulose membrane following
the standard protocol. For Dot blot detection, 3 ml of each of the
samples was spotted onto nitrocellulose membranes and let dry at
room temperature. All subsequent steps were the same for
Western blot or for Dot blot. The nitrocellulose membrane was
blocked in 20 ml of Block Buffer for 1 hour at room temperature,
followed by washing twice for 5 minutes with 50 ml of PBST
(16PBS, 0.1% Tween-20). For the primary antibody step, the
membrane was incubated with 10 ml of 1:5000 diluted mouse
His6-tag monoclonal antibody (or 1:2000 rabbit anti-human
CCR3 or CCR5 monoclonal antibody) in Wash buffer for 1 hour,
followed by 5 washes for 5 minutes with 50 ml Wash buffer. In the
secondary antibody step, the membrane was soaked in 50 ml of
1:5000 diluted goat anti-mouse IgG/M HRP (or using 1:4000 goat
anti-rabbit IgG HRP if the primary antibody was from rabbit) in
Wash buffer for 50 minutes, followed by 5 washes for 5 minutes
with 50 ml Wash buffer. Finally, the membrane was developed
using ECL plus Western blot Detection Reagents (GE Healthcare)
following the manufacturer’s protocol and imaged using a
FluorChem Image System (Alpha Innotech Corp.). The signal
intensities of Dot blot detection (spot intensity average) were
quantified using the AlphaEaseFC software of the system.
Detergent screening for solubilization of hCRs. Eightyeight detergents were selected from the Solution Master Detergent
Kit (Anatrace). Several detergents with too high CMC values were
omitted from the screen. Additionally, HEGA-10, NP-40,
Digitonin, and five kinds of detergent mixtures were included the
list since they had proven effective in solubilization of other
membrane proteins. In total, 96 detergents/detergent mixtures
were listed and numbered as they appear in the Solution Master
Detergent Kit with the eight additional ones appended as in
Figure 5. All the detergents dissolved as 10% except those mixtures.
For sample preparation of the four pBAD-hCRs expressed in
Top10, 2 ml of overnight culture was inoculated in 200 ml of fresh
TB medium and cultured at 37uC for about 3 hours with shaking,
until the concentration reached an OD600 of 0.6,0.8. At this time,
the temperature of the incubator was lowered to 16uC and the
culture was continued for another 30 min, followed by the
addition of 1 ml of 20% L-arabinose (to a final 0.05%) to induce
the expression of pBAD-hCRs. After 24 hours of induction, the
cells were harvested by centrifugation at 5000 g for 20 min. The
cell pellets were resuspended completely with 20 ml of Lysis buffer
and distributed into 96 1.5 ml of Eppendorf tubes with 180 ml/
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tube, numbered from 1 to 96. After 3 times of freeze-thaw at
280uC and 42uC, 20 ml of each detergent (final 1%) was added
into the corresponding tube of cell lysate, except for those with
higher CMC, where 40 ml of 2% detergent was added to 160 ml
cell lysate. The samples were mixed carefully and incubated for
2 hours at 4uC with gentle shaking. Supernatants were collected
after centrifugation at 16,000 g and 3 ml of each sample was
applied to nitrocellulose membrane in the matrix form shown in
Figure 6A from a1 to h12. Detection using Dot blot was performed
as described above.
Large-scale expression, solubilization and purification of
synthetic hCRs. For high-level expression in 1 liter of culture,
10 ml of overnight culture was cooled on ice for 5 minutes and
centrifuged at 3000 g for 15 minutes at 4uC. The supernatant was
removed and the cell pellets were resuspend in 1 ml of fresh sterile
LB medium, and was inoculated into 1 liter of fresh TB medium
(containing 100 mg/ml ampicillin) for culture at 37uC with shaking
at 220 rpm. When the cell concentration reached about 0.6
(OD600), the temperature was decreased to 16uC, and, the inducer
was added after an additional 30 min shaking to start the
expression of target proteins. The inducer concentrations were
0.3 mM IPTG for pEXP-hCRs in C41, or 0.05% L-arabinose for
pBAD-hCRs in Top10. After 24 hours of expression, cells were
harvested by centrifugation at 5000 g for 20 minutes, and stored
at 220uC for future use.
For collecting membrane fractions, stored cell pellets from 1
liter of culture were resuspended in 50 ml of Lysis Buffer followed
by 3 times of freeze-thawing at 280uC and 42uC, and cells were
lysed by passing through a French press at 18,000 psi. The cell
lysate was centrifuged at 10,000 g for 1 hour to remove cell debris
and inclusion bodies, then, ultra-centrifugation was applied for the
supernatant at 100,000 g for 1 hour to collect the crude cell
membrane fractions. These were resuspended in 20 ml Membrane
Wash buffer, followed by another ultra-centrifugation at 100,000 g
for 1 hour to collect the washed membrane fractions. Care was
taken to resuspend the membrane pellets completely. The next
step was solubilization, in which the washed membrane fractions
were resuspended in 10 ml of Solubilization buffer containing one
tablet of Protease Inhibitor Cocktail, followed by incubation
overnight at 4uC with gently shaking. The following morning, the
solution was again subjected to ultra-centrifugation at 100,000 g
for 1 hour to remove non-solubilized proteins and collect the
supernatant for purification.
The supernatants were loaded on a Hitrap Chelating HP 5 ml
column, which were charged with chelated Ni2+ and equilibrated
with Buffer A for the first step of purification. After 15 column
volumes (CVs) of washing with Buffer A plus 5% Buffer B (totally
50 mM imidazole), the target proteins were eluted with a linear
gradient from 5% to 100% of Buffer B over 2 CVs. The fractions
were tested by SDS-PAGE and those containing hCRs were
pooled and concentrated using an Amicon Ultra-15 Centrifugal
Filter Unit with Ultracel-50 membrane (Millipore). To further
improve the purity of the protein, the concentrated protein was
loaded onto a Superdex-200 gel-filtration column equilibrated
with Buffer C. The peak fractions from the elution were pooled
and tested by SDS-PAGE or Western blotting. The concentration
of purified proteins was measured with Nanodrop Spectrophotometer (Thermo Scientific).
Circular dichroism (CD) detection of secondary structure
of Trx-hCCR3. CD experiments were preformed on Aviv 202
spectropolarimeter (Aviv Biomedical) with a 1 mm path length cell
at 25uC. The purified protein sample came from gel filtration
fractions and was concentrated to 1 mg/ml. The CD spectrum
was recorded from 200 nm to 250 nm of wavelength with 1 nm
February 2009 | Volume 4 | Issue 2 | e4509
Study Human Chemokine Receptor
resolution and 2 seconds of average time. Buffer C used in the
protein purification worked as blank to correct the baseline.
Results were expressed as the molar mean residue ellipticity (h) at a
given wavelength.
We thank Dr. Liselotte Kaiser and Hanna Eriksson for their help in gene
cloning and expression. We also thank MIT UROP students Tracy Li and
Xun Hou for their help in detergents screening and proteins purification.
We also thank Prof. Gösta Winberg for stimulating and helpful discussions.
Supporting Information
Author Contributions
Figure S1 Codon-optimized DNA sequences of human chemo-
Conceived and designed the experiments: HR SZ. Performed the
experiments: HR DY BG BLC ZX. Analyzed the data: HR BG SZ.
Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: HR BLC. Wrote the paper:
kine receptors CCR5, CCR3, CXCR4 and CX3CR1.
Found at: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004509.s001 (0.04 MB
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High-Level Production, Solubilization and Purification of